Posted by: Rob Viens | February 19, 2012

Bartholomew J. Sulivan – Dolphin Hunter

February 19th – The Beagle continued south to Fernando Noronha, and today’s diary entry briefly describes the crews continued attempt to get a little variety in their diet:

“Just before it was dark Sullivan harpooned a large porpoise. ” (Feb 19)

Darwin seemed to have a pretty poor view of sailors when he departed Plymouth in December (see Stuck in Plymouth with Books, Drunken Sailors and the Rambling Blues from January 26).  But as the journey progressed and he lived, ate, hiked, explored and talked with his shipmates, he began to form some strong friendships – particularly with the officers.  I thought it would be only fitting to get to know some of these shipmates a little when they show up in the diary.  Today – a few words on Lt. Sulivan.

Admiral Bartholomew James Sulivan later in his life (from Wikipedia):

Bartholomew James Sullivan

Bartholomew James Sulivan was a 21-year-old lieutenant when he set out on the Beagle in 1831. Although it would appear that he did not know Darwin before the voyage, the two became life-long friends.

After the Beagle returned to England, Sulivan went on to have a long and productive career as a naval surveyor.  After the Beagle voyage, he is probably best known for surveying Patagonia and the Falkland Islands in the late 1830’s and early to mid 1840’s (for much of that time he commanded the survey brig HMS Philomel).

In 1845 Sulivan discovered what would later be known as the mid-Miocene Santa Cruz fossil beds, where he collected several mammal fossils. He brought these fossils back to England where his friend, Charles Darwin, helped get them into the hands of the famous paleontologist Richard Owen, for identification.  The Santa Cruz site turned out to be one of the most productive fossil mammal sites in all of South America.

Santa Cruz fossil reconstruction from a 1921 Geology text by William Scott. The camption reads: “Theosodon lydekkeri Amegh. One of the Litopterna from the Santa Cruz beds of Patagonia. On the right are two examples of Borhyama, a carnivorous Marsupial. Restoration by C. R. Knight, under the direction of the author.

Sulivan’s survey work in the Crimean War in the 1850’s helped the Royal Navy in their campaign in the Baltic Sea. He was knighted by the crown and by that time he retired he had achieved the rank of Admiral. Bartolomé Island and Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island, both in the Galapagos Islands, where named after Lt. Sulivan.

I continue to think about this boat-load of young men, mostly in their 20’s, many of whom would go on to have prestigious careers or play some role in history. Yet, here they were early in their life skinning dolphins, hazing one other, bashing birds, and participating in what would become one of the most important and well-know voyages of discovery in history. If they only knew…

At the end of the day the Beagle reached Fernando Noronha Island.  Darwin notes:

“The view of the group of Islands was very grand by the clear moonlight ” (Feb 19)

He made a short stop on the island the next day.  Guess what tomorrow’s post will cover…. (RJV)


  1. More bird bashing the next day?

    • Fortunately no, they must have had enough dolphin. Let’s just say it involves colonnade…

  2. […] Kudos to Lt Sulivan for catching Darwin off guard! (See more about Sulivan at Bartholomew J. Sulivan – Dolphin Hunter) […]

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